The USAF has posted a sources sought contracting announcement on the federal government's business opportunities website FedBizOps.gov that amounts to an entirely open-ended request for hypersonic weapons programs. Let me make that clear, this isn't a request for information or a contract announcement for a type of hypersonic weapon, but one that says the Air Force is willing and wanting to look at any hypersonic weapon concept or development capacity. The posting is definitely a sign of the times as the Pentagon has identified hypersonic weapons as a preeminent area of emerging weapons competition among its potential peer-state opponents.
Within roughly the last 24 months, hypersonic weapons have gone from an area of development interest and an ongoing exploratory initiative that seemed at least partially relegated to black budgets to a burgeoning international arms race. China and Russia have poured funds into the hypersonic weapons space in recent years and it became clear that the United States was losing ground if not outright falling behind in what is tantamount to a super-weapon technology. Hypersonic vehicles are able to penetrate deep into the most hostile and well-defended airspace on earth and take out targets with very short notice.
Fast forward to today and the USAF has four hypersonic weapons programs that use the B-52 as a launch platform alone. Others exist in the form of submarine-launched and ground-launched types, as well as reusable hypersonic aircraft. And these are just the ones we know about.
But these existing programs clearly are not enough for the USAF, and the service is now soliciting any firms with the wherewithal to participate in the hypersonic arena. Such a blanket request isn't totally unheard of but it is rare for a high-end weapons capability like this that is already saturating the Pentagon's weapons portfolio.
The announcement reads in part:
The Department of Defense, United States Air Force (USAF), Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC), Armament Directorate, is currently conducting market research on hypersonic weapon rapid development, production, and sustainment. AFLCMC/EB is considering the viability of a multiple award Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract vehicle.
Qualified vendors must be skilled in design, qualification, and component/subsystem/system weapons testing. Qualified vendors must also be capable in all the following fields: hypersonic aerodynamics; aero-thermal protection systems; solid rocket motors; advanced hypersonic guidance, navigation, and control; component integration into an all-up round; mission planning; and platform integration.
CAPABILITIES STATEMENT: All interested vendors shall submit a capabilities statement that explicitly demonstrates their capability. The capabilities statement should be brief and concise, yet clearly demonstrate an ability to meet all aspects of hypersonic weapon development and production.
Clearly, this open call of sorts is meant to help further jumpstart hypersonic weapons development across multiple contractors. Well established players in the space, namely Lockheed Martin, is already expanding literally as fast as they can to accommodate the demand placed on them by the USAF's existing hypersonic initiatives. So this announcement swings the door wide open for less established or dominant players to get a piece of the growing hypersonic pie.
It will be interesting to see who comes forward to offer up their services to the USAF. The usual players, including Boeing and Raytheon, will surely be eager to extend their involvement in the hypersonic sector, but smaller outfits could also step up with new high-speed weapons concepts that they claim are within their grasp.
Regardless of who responds, it abundantly clear that the Pentagon now has an insatiable appetite for very high-speed weaponry, one that likely won't be quenched anytime soon.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com